Pressures of academia force questions of intrinsic social worth

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March 6, 2007

7:45 PM

It took an ice cream sundae, homemade guacamole and chips, two hours of cuddling and a fitness class to get me to stop bawling last Friday. I had just completed my first test in biophysical chemistry, and my brain seemed to have melted and had started leaking out of my eyeballs. This was not pretty, “America’s Next Top Model” crying either; this was a snot-filled, hiccupping, ugly cry — and people saw me. How could they not? I was paralyzed on the edge of Barksdale Field, sitting outside my dorm, calling my boyfriend for reassurance and trying to breathe.

p. All of this nonsense over a test that may very well have no effect on my life whatsoever. In fact, I’m almost certain that after May of this year, I will never have to recall any of this information ever again and I certainly won’t be asked to manipulate it sans textbooks. Unless research is my career path (which I assure you, it is not), I can’t help but ask, what’s the point?

p. What’s the point of memorizing dates if you can get the general story right? What’s the point of memorizing act, scene and line numbers if you know the heart of the dramatic discourse? Are we waiting for the information apocalypse? Are the Canadians going to descend upon us sometime in the future and destroy all of our technology a la the Visigoths? And, if so, could anyone really tell me how to physically create a computer from scratch? Really.

p. Maybe that’s unfair. I maintain my firm values of academic curiosity and learning for the sake of self-improvement, but I have to cling to something as I drift aimlessly in the sea of midterms.

p. I understand the synthetic nature of tests and the value of internalizing material for application. The problem is that I also internalize the value system imbedded in the testing process. Friday afternoon at 2 p.m., there was no longer anything I could do about my grade; the test was in the hands of a higher (grading) power. All that was left was fear. And it took me three more hours to get over it — sort of.

p. As students, our fundamental responsibility in college is to learn and to be tested on our efforts in learning. If I fail at this simple definition of student, what does that make my experience here? My only job (for the sake of argument) is to do well in school for four years, and I can’t manage it. This, friends, was my mode of thinking; I was deeply unhinged.

p. Turns out that nobody other than admissions officials at other academic institutions will ask about your GPA, and then, of course, you get a second chance with graduate school (which almost guarantees that thereafter nobody asks what your undergraduate experience was anyway). This prospect seems a little grim. I don’t want to just muscle through my classes here. I like them and I respect (okay, idolize) my professors.

p. There’s the value system again. I want to be liked; I think everybody does. I imagine it’s hard for a professor to like a student who isn’t trying, but how can professors get a good sense of how hard a student is trying without tests? Now it’s not simply my personal worth as a student that comes into question, but my inherent desire to be a well-liked person that has me freaked out. That’s a lot of pressure — fail and you are not only an unworthy student, but you lose standing in the eyes of those judging you. Tough crowd.

p. For all outward purposes, academic success is not necessarily coupled with great grades. As far as I can tell, it’s about pursuing passions and expanding one’s mind in order to understand events and information later on, whether in a career or otherwise. Grades do not add up or average out to an intrinsic social worth, though I can’t break myself of my investment in the system.

p. Whether or not I continue to make myself crazy for what I consider (at times of clarity) meaningless evaluations, I can say with confidence that there is so much more to being here than grades. Feel lucky enough to have friends to cry to, to take you out or to watch a movie with you. The performances and experiences outside the classroom are character builders, not GPA boosters. Put effort into your work here because you want to, because you like it or, for everyone else’s sake, because classes are so much more fun when students are engaged and excited about the material. Besides, in a week, we’ll have some time to forget our academic failings for a while.

p. __Charlotte Savino is a Confusion Corner columnist for The Flat Hat. She kinda has a thing for some (read: all) of her professors.__

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